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France endures football Waterloo at World Cup

sports Updated: Jun 23, 2010 10:37 IST
AP
football

The match was only 25 minutes old and the puffy white clouds hanging over the Free State Stadium had yet to take on sunset's pink-orange hue when the Colombian referee, Oscar Ruiz, reached for his pocket.

The card he pulled out was bright red. He was ordering Yoann Gourcuff off the field, punishing the French midfielder for a nasty elbow-first foul that felled Macbeth Sibaya of South Africa like a woodman's axe.

On the edge of the pitch, French coach Raymond Domenech buried his head in his hands. With Gourcuff's expulsion, France's wafer-thin hopes of perhaps rescuing its calamitous World Cup by beating South Africa evaporated. France's humiliation was now total and complete.

The 1998 champions and losing finalists in 2006 are going home early from this first World Cup in Africa - winless and the laughing stock of the soccer world. As one of Europe's soccer powers, a nation that churns out top-quality players who compete for Europe's big clubs and biggest leagues, France had reason to believe before this competition that it would at least get beyond the first round.

Instead, its multimillionaire players embarrassed themselves and their nation by rebelling against their coach and the French Football Federation, even taking the extraordinary step of going on strike. The soap opera disputes in the luxurious French camp grew to such dramatic proportions that President Nicolas Sarkozy got involved to try to limit damage to France's reputation, not just in soccer but in the wider world, too.

His sports minister, sent to hammer some sense into the rebels, reduced players to tears on the eve of their final game against South Africa, telling them: "You have tarnished the image of France."

Playing less than 24 hours after that scolding at their hotel in Bloemfontein, a city in the arid plains of central South Africa, France's players roused themselves in spurts on on Tuesday, but not enough to secure a win that might have started to make amends for their off-field behavior and, with luck, perhaps even have prevented France from going out of the tournament.

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